I’m asking you to leave…

Filed under:Laws & Rules — posted by admin on June 4, 2010 @ 4:53 pm

That was Charlie the “faciliator” shussssshing me yesterday at the “Citizen Advisory Task Force” meeting in Plainview.  Again…

… and I said I would not leave, he again asked me to leave,  and I wrote down Alan’s phone number on the pile-o-papers of the landowner sitting next to me and said “no, I won’t leave” and restrained myself as best I could, which was very hard, VERY hard.  He said he’d go to the Police across the hall, and I said “Go ahead.”  It’s absurd.  Well, my thoughts on this aren’t even printable… He then stopped the meeting for a break, and came over and was not interested in engaging in a conversation, he was all about forcing me to shut up, telling me how many task forces he’s run (all run wrong, I presume), that the way for the public to participate is through MOES, that this meeting is for Task Force members (and if they need information that you’re not providing, GIGO, eh?  Can’t have people knowing the critical information, can you).  He wanted me to promise to shut up, but II wouldn’t make that promise because ya never know when the fount of information will need to burst forth!  So he goes out the door in a huff, presumably to the police to turn on the video?, maybe he just hid in the bathroom for a while.  If he’s a “facilitator” and chose that approach rather than, “Oh, that’s right, Task Force members should know that _____” which would have been a lot quicker and effective on a couple of fronts, 20 seconds and move on to something else,  instead he has chosen to be oppositional every time this has come up, that says a lot.

What’s the deal?  Why so oppositional?  Is it a control issue or was it that he did not want information about Rural Utilities Service consideration of three river crossing locations known by members of the Task Force?

Since 1995, I’ve been working along-side of Citizen Advisory Task Forces, clients have been members, I’ve Petitioned for them more times than I can count, and I have been to way too many Citizen Advisory Task Force meetings than I care to remember.  And the way they are being set-up (apt word) and run is misfeasance and malfeasance.  People appointed to be on these Task Forces have no idea of the purpose, history or importance of Task Forces, and have no idea how MOES is misshaping this process.  It’s all in MOES interpretation of the rules, and that’s a hard one to get at.  But I’m putting together the background info to show how Task Forces have morphed over the years because I am sick to death of the way these “Task Forces” are manipulated, uninformed, deviated from their charge.

LaCrosse Project Task Force Charge

Deviated from the charge?  Yes.  That’s why the Task Forces revolted in the Brookings routing docket, and they refused to vote, because of the way they were pushed into voting on segments one by one.  Pushed by Charlie, and they pushed back.  Here, there was also significant deviation from the charge, in that after issues were raised, they were to narrow down the list of issues at the second meeting to the ones they identified as most important.  HUH?  The charge is to raise issues, not to limit them:

OES herein charges the ATF members to:
1. Assist in determining specific impacts and issues of local concern that should be assessed
in the EIS by adding detail to the draft Scoping Document;
2. Assist in determining potential route alternatives that should be assessed in the EIS.

This statement from the MOES Notice is also direct quote of the PUC Order.  I missed the second meeting in Cannon Falls, but at the Plainview one, there was objection to limiting these impacts and issues, objection to picking some and leaving out the rest.  GOOD!  Each and every concern raised that they think should be addressed SHOULD go forward to be addressed in the EIS.

Restraint — in a format like this where I see it’s not handled right — for me that’s the hardest part, because when important things are not known to a group, when they’re asking questions and not getting full answers, particularly at a public meeting, at a Citizen Advisory Task Force meeting, there is information they need.  They need it now.  They don’t need it later, they don’t need it in an email, or searching around on the web, they need it when they are talking about it.

Day before yesterday, it was a case of a circular discussion of Hwy. 52 interchanges, and the Task Force members were asking questions about the DOT’s policies and routing through and around existing and planned interchanges, and THE TASK FORCE MEMBERS DIDN’T HAVE THE DOT COMMENTS.  I raised the question, “Do Task Force members have the DOT comment?” while waving my copy in the air, and I was shusssssshed by Charlie, the “facilitator,” but Matt Langan wisely offered to copy mine and give it to the members, who all clearly needed it, and deserved to have the most recent information.  Yesterday, a similar discussion occurred, and the Thursday group had not been provided with the DOT comments.  Why are they withjolding information?

Day before yesterday, the fact of the Stanton airport was raised, and that line shouldn’t have even been drawn on the map because the airport right there renders it infeasible, so why waste anyone and everyone’s time on it?  But apparently the Task Force members didn’t know about it, those who proposed it, or those “facilitating,” and it was drawn as a route.  WTF?  And then Xcel’s Tom Hillstrom states that it’s a PRIVATE airport, and it’s not, it’s a PUBLIC airport.  This is the sort of information that they need to have.  There is no excuse for “facilitating” this ignorance.  It took me about 30 seconds to find the FAA database, and about 15-20 to play with it and format it a little and voila, here it is:

Minnesota Airport Database – Searchable

So why don’t they get that information???

And when a Task Force member who could not attend the prior two meetings and so ended up in the audience, why was he shussssshed when he offered relevant commentary about a historical area, why was that information not welcomed?!?!  To borrow a “land-use” phrase, “How dense can we be?”

The issues with Task Forces have been a problem since the 2001 legislative changes, and it continues, specifically:

  • MOES does not give sufficient credence to the term “public participation,” which is one primary purpose of Task Forces.  Participation in Task Forces is a bare minimum of public participation, not an upper bound.
  • MOES is resistant to Task  Forces.  They will sometimes acquiesce to one, like their pre-arranged ONE for Dakota County area in the Brookings routing proceeding, and the pre-arranged ONE for Pine Island area in the Hampton-Alma routing proceeding.   We had to fight for more than one Task Force for Brookings and Hampton-Alma, despite the long length of the route.   MOES did not want one for Chisago, it wasn’t Xcel objecting but MOES!!!   THERE WAS NO TASK FORCE FOR THE MINN-CAN PIPELINE – CAN YOU BELIEVE IT?
  • Because of MOES reticence, it’s usually up to someone, often moi, to Petition the PUC for Task Forces.  I’ve done this over and over, to the point that each time it’s necessary, I’m getting more and more pissed, and citing more and more examples of the problems in the Petition.
  • Despite getting a PUC Order for two or more Task Forces, MOES refused to set one up for the Marshall area, despite requests, claiming they weren’t enough and the right kind of requests.  had they notified people in the Marshall area of a need for more requests, those requests would have come in.
  • There is not enough time allotted to get CATF members appointed, for example, it can take a City a number of weeks if they need to have a public meeting to appoint a representative, and sometimes it’s all happening in too fast a time frame.  For the Chisago Project III, there was just six days!
  • NO REGULAR CITIZENS ARE APPOINTED to the CITIZEN Advisory Task Forces.  For example, two Task Forces for Hampton-Alma with ONE exception, a person representing a group along a particular route, and no individuals in either.
  • No groups like Cannon River Watershed Partnership or Zumbro Watershed Partnership are invited or present.  EH?
  • The Task Force members are notified that they have been selected, and for some reason, that notification does not come with a copy of the application!  The first meeting, they arrive and are provided some materials, but THEY ARE NOT GIVEN A COPY OF THE APPLICATION!  The applicants will gladly give them one if they ask, but they have to ask and have to KNOW to ask.   How do you know what issues to raise, what impacts may be, what alternatives there may be, if you don’t know what is being proposed?  How do you know what’s being proposed if you don’t have a copy of the application?
  • MOES contracted facilitator focuses on “Land-Use” and states that’s why only “Land-Use Professionals” (yes, that’s a repeated direct quote) are on the Task Force.  He says he’s facilitated 12-13 of these and that’s how it is, therefore that’s the right approach.  SAY WHAT?!?!?!  MOES and its contractor are determining the charge and steering Task Force work in a way that is inconsistent with the PUC’s Order.
  • The public is not allowed to speak at Task Force meetings, and there is no designated public comment period at any time during Task Force meetings.  How is this “public participation?”
  • Agency people should be brought in to inform the Task Force of agency policies, i.e., DOT, DNR, Fish & Wildlife, FAA, so that Task Force discussions of alternatives and review of applicant proposed routes can be informed, substantive and relevant.
  • The maps they were looking at did not have all features identified.  Even some features that were identified were ignored, i.e., when talking about pros and cons of routes in the Cannon Falls area, NO ONE MENTIONED THE CANNON RIVER — NOT EVEN ONCE!
  • The legislatively mandated “sunset” of Task Forces means they end wen the Scoping Decision is issued (mandated after the spectacular performance of the Florence Township and Chisago I Task Forces!), however, Task Forces may expressly continue as a workgroup, there was some discussion of that at one of the recent PUC meetings addressing Task Forces, and if they want to continue to meet, they can.  DESPITE THIS, THE PLAINVIEW TASK FORCE, WAS TOLD THAT NO, THEY CANNOT CONTINUE MEETING.  MOES is deciding to present that the Task Force ends, period.
  • Task Force Reports are now written by agency staff, they used to be written by the self-elected Chair and members of the Task Force.  The statute and rules are silent as to who writes the report — and it is MOES that determines that MOES shall write the report.
  • The Brookings Task Force Reports (2) were NOT entered into the record by MOES — they were entered by yours truly after learning that MOES had not entered them.
  • Comments about the Task Force problems filtered into the ALJ’s Recommendation for the CapX St. Cloud-Monticello route:

Task Force Process

108. The ALJ received comments from Sherburne County, the City of Becker, Becker Township, Clear Lake Township and Haven Township expressing disappointment with the Task Force process and lack of notice provided to local governmental units on the east side of the Mississippi River. State Senator Lisa Fobbe commented on behalf of her constituents in Sherburne County that the decision by the Advisory Task Force to consider Route D was made without involvement from the residents of Sherburne County.

109. Clear Lake Township commented that no representative of any governmental body in Sherburne County participated in the EIS scoping process before or after the identification of four proposed alternate routes located in Sherburne County.  Clear Lake Township believes the Advisory Task Force did not comply with Minn. Stat. § 216E.08, which requires public participation in the EIS preparation process. ALJ’s Recommendation for St. Cloud to Monticello p. 21.

A. CHARGE

In the Public Utilities Commission Order “accepting route permit application as complete, authorizing selection of Public Advisor, and combining environmental review and public hearing with Certificate of Need application,” dated February 12, 2007, the Commission authorized “the Department of Energy Facilities Permitting staff to establish an advisory task force and develop a proposed structure for the task force.”

The Department developed a candidate application form and presented the proposed structure and charge for the advisory task force at a Public Meeting in Lindstrom, Minnesota on February 27, 2007. A six (6) day deadline for submitting applications for membership on the task force was announced. Predictably, the short time frame ruled out the possibility of appointments from most affected governments because they do not meet frequently enough to respond to such an unreasonable deadline. According to the Project Manager, only one of the nine affected local governments responded. One affected local government, Chisago City, was not notified of either the applications or the task force opportunity, yet has since become involved in the process.

Subsequently, representatives from two affected cities and several other citizens did submit candidate applications to the Public Advisor by the March 5, 2007 cut off. The Department declined task force member requests and a request from the City of Lindstrom to extend the deadline for submission of task force applications and on March 9 declined to establish a formal advisory task force, citing Minnesota Statute 218E.08, supd 1.

The Commission authorization to establish a task force was then replaced by Commerce with an informal advisory task force process led by the Project Manager. The advisory task force had a membership of sixteen (16) representatives and met three times as a group to discuss scoping, alternate route designations and environmental and safety issues that should be addressed in the Environmental Assessment (EA). The advisory group met March 19, 23 and 26 at the Lindstrom City Hall and individual ‘homework’ assignments were completed by members between meetings.

The advisory task force included eight staff or elected official representatives from Chisago City, the City of Lindstrom, Center City, Shafer Township and Chisago County. The advisory group also included at least one representative of East Central RDC, Chisago Lakes School District, Concerned River Valley Citizens and St. Croix Scenic Coalition. Depending on how you count, four or five listed members of the advisory task force were citizens who represented themselves. Additionally, another eight or ten community leaders attended the meetings, participated in discussions and made recommendations to the group. The advisory task force was given only nine work days within which to initiate its work at the first meeting, draft and review recommendations and submit its recommendations to the Project Manager.

The impossibly rushed participation schedule was presented to affected local governments as a fait accompli and this has led Chisago community leaders to conclude the spirit and intent of the Power Plant Siting Act to “provide for broad spectrum citizen participation as a principle of operation” was not intended in the above described process. To this point, agencies entrusted with protecting a fair public process have failed themselves…and the public. The City of Lindstrom has filed a Motion for Extension of Task Force and, in the alternative, Certification to the Commission. We hope for a late rally that will overcome the initial failures of process.

The public, in this case represented by advisory task force members, did participate in good faith to conclude prescribed work on time and bring forward recommendations. They represent a public perspective of what should be the overriding ‘charge’ directed to all parties to protect the public interest.

DO THE WORDS OF THE CHISAGO TASK FORCE SOUND FAMILIAR?!?!? Special thanks to Kristen Eide-Tollefson for reminding me of this intro.  And that triggered some memories… would you believe that when we got to the Chisago hearing, months after the Task Force Report was issued, the very last day we learned to our astonishment and consternation that the Appendices to the Task Force had been omitted from the record?  MOES did not include them.  That included a flyover video,  obtained with tremendous effort; the Chisago I Task Force Report (so as not to have to reinvent the wheel for the same project 10 years later):

Expanding Horizons – Chisago I Task Force Report 1997

Expanding Horizons – Appendices – Chisago I

And some other examples, there are so many, and I haven’t the stomach for it right now.  Some more history, in this post:

Citizen Advisory Task Forces through time…

4 comments »

  1. Carol

    Your comments on the ATF have been spot on. I was a public member of the Lake Marion/Hampton ATF (a now extinct position from what I read). We complained constantly about the structure of our meetings and the muzzling of any real attempt to work on routing. As soon as the faciliator was introduced we knew that a we were all part of a choreographed event. The OES is required to have Task Forces. There is a box to check off just like the Scoping box, the Public Meeting box the ALJ Public Meeting box. When they are all checked, their public obligation has been met.There has never been an attempt in this CAPX routing to make the ATF a meaningful endeavor.
    Trish

    Comment by Trish Johnson — June 5, 2010 @ 5:07 am

  2. Carol: An preliminary and heartfelt thanks, for your effort to bring together the experience and concerns of a wide number of task forces and citizens — in one place. The combination of direct citations and analysis are very helpful. I know the level of sacrifice this dogged commitment entails.

    The deterioration of the citizen advisory task force experience and function, is disturbing in the extreme. It undermines both the private and public interests, that it is the intention of the process established in statute to protect.

    The annual hearing that was put into statute to provide for a feedback mechanism to vet and improve public engagement under the Power Plant Siting Act — is not functioning as intended. I am deeply saddened to witness the deterioration of trust and respect in the working relationship between the agencies and the public.

    There is not a functional public adviser capacity at this time, that is — one that actively supports constructive and informed working relationships between agencies, proposers and the public. Legislative review of this function is in order.

    To your recent experience: the attempt to interfere with the long standing tradition of former citizen task force member support of new task forces — particularly in the context of a public meeting — is very troubling as well. The control and manipulation of essential information is what regulators and facilitators are there to prevent, not to inflict.

    Time to call our legislators, and take the issue of public access to and meaningful participation in these critical energy infrastructure decisions — to the legislature. I will work on a draft letter to my legislator, and encourage others to do the same. It is powerful to hear people’s stories. Thanks for sharing them.

    Yours,
    Kristen Eide-Tollefson, Florence Township, Goodhue Co. MN; CURE – Communities United for Responsible Energy; M.A. Humphrey Institute 2006 (Focus: “Public Engagement in Energy Policy Planning and Infrastructure Development”); Former EQB Citizen Advisory Task Force, (1995); Governor’s Special Advisory Committee (SAC) on Environmental Review (2002); Prairie Island PUC informal Task Force adviser (2008- Sig Anderson, representative for CURE); and informal regulatory process adviser to CETF (2008).

    Comment by Kristen Eide-Tollefson — June 5, 2010 @ 8:25 am

  3. P.S. My comment regarding the Public Adviser, is not meant to reflect upon the role or performance of any particular Public Adviser. The role has been constrained by statute and rule changes, such that the public adviser can now discuss process only. And can only give out information that a citizen asks for. Therefore, the citizens must already know what they need to know, in order to get the information they need to participate meaningfully. As a former task force member — who’s life and public education has been immeasurably enriched by the opportunity to participate “meaningfully” in EQB public processes — I yet have hope that Humpty Dumpty can be put back together again.
    Kristen

    Comment by Kristen Eide-Tollefson — June 5, 2010 @ 2:38 pm

  4. I don’t know this guy Charlie, but he sounds like a piece of work.

    Truth is that agencies and corporations have been refining their techniques of manipulation and deception for decades, and the public and NGOs have in no way kept up. It is sad to see that Minnesota laws written to encourage strong participation are being mocked.

    Personally, I assign a great deal of blame to orgs like Fresh Energy, Ikes, Sierra Club, MCEA, etc, who have connived with utilities and bureaucrats to advocate particular policies and not been there when communities have to confront the consequences….

    Comment by Alan Muller — July 1, 2014 @ 6:30 am

Copy link for RSS feed for comments on this post or for TrackBack URI

Leave a comment

Line and paragraph breaks automatic, e-mail address never displayed, HTML allowed: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>

(required)

(required)




image: detail of installation by Bronwyn Lace